Tesco Language

Tesco is to change the wording of signs on its fast-track checkouts to avoid any linguistic dispute.

The supermarket giant is to replace its current "10 items or less" notices with signs saying "Up to 10 items".

Tesco's move follows uncertainty over whether the current notices should use "fewer" instead of "less".


Whilst '10 items or fewer' is more linguistically correct than '10 items or less', 'up to 10 items' does not just 'clarify' the meaning (who was unclear?) it actually changes the meaning.

'10 items or fewer/less' implies the number of items can be 10. 'Up to 10 items' implies that anything from 1 to 9 is okay, but 10 is too many.

With the change, it's possible that jobsworths on the till might have a resurgence. I hope not! I haven't had one of those in some time.

All this is just fussing round the edges - appealing to the grammar pedants. I'd much prefer it if Tesco could sort out its pricing policy, that'd be a useful change.

France a remis la Legion d'honneur à Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan un acteur indien a gagné la Legion d'honneur. Bachchan 'est une véritable légende vivante dans son pays avec quelque 140 films à son actif'. Aussi, Bachchan était le presenteur de कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. C'est le versionne indien du 'Qui veut gagner des millions?' Amitabh Bachchan, an Indian actor has won the Legion of Honour. Bachchan is a veritable living legend in his country with some 140 films to his credit. Also, Bachchan was the presenter of कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. This is the Indian version of 'Who wants to be a millionaire?'

(If there are errors in the French or Hindi, please let me know).


Massively late, (cut-off date tomorrow), I sit down to do my final TMA for L120 (French Open University course). I'm so far behind it's unbelievable. I want to take a deferment, but if I understand it, this means paying for virtually the whole course again - I may as well see if I can get through and then resit if needed. I really don't like this one little bit. If I do get through I'll have the points, but won't feel like I've learned much - which rather defeats the object of the exercise. If I don't get through, then I'll feel I'll have wasted the time. It's a lose-lose proposition.

Still, I'll get the TMA in (even if I have to hand-deliver it), and then will have to think about the following ECA.

Je parle le français comme une vache espagnole!

J'ai fini mes devoirs pour l'open université. Il faut nécessaire écrire environs 200 mots en français sur mes vacances, et j'ai préparé une présentation orale avec une cassette. La présentation était sur le sujet de la 14 juillet. C'était difficile pour moi, mais la difficulté est la raison pour essayer!

I've finished my homework for the open university. It was necessary to write about 200 words in french about a holiday, and I have prepared an oral presentation with a cassette. The presentation was on the subject of the 14th July (Bastille day). it was difficult for me, but the difficulty is the reason for trying!

Eve Teasing

When Monica and I were in India (I really must complete my posts for that trip) we kept reading in various newspapers, such as 'The Times of India' about 'Eve Teasing'. We could understand from context what the word meant, but it perplexed us.

A little research provided us with an answer.

Essentially it refers to harrassment of women. Literally 'Teasing Eve'.

In a related story whilst we were there, there was a story which caught our eye where police raided a park in Meerut and started to beat couples (or usually the women) for public displays of 'obscenity', some were married couples - and some brother and sister who were out for a walk. I seem to remember the word 'eve teasing', used here - so the word may have other connotations. The event did provoke some scandal and the police officers involved were suspended.

Accents (Un)Limited

The Guardian has a nice article upon accents in films, and lists the top 10 worst accents. Surprisingly to me, Dick Van Dyke comes in at Number 3 (I have met Americans who honestly could not see what was wrong with the accent). Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised as I haven't seen Keanu Reeves in 'Dracula' and can't recall Marlon Brando in 'Mutiny on the Bounty'.

Jane Leeves as Daphne in Frasier is right up there for me (I was living in Manchester when Frasier was first transmitted). I pointed this out online and an American said to me 'Show's what you know, she's actually British'.

I responded 'So am I'. They did keep pushing the point that as she was British could do a British accent, but did not comprehend that there was no such thing! The person also seemed to be suffering from that American delusion which is still present, but less so than it used to be, that everyone they speak to online is also a Yank.

Hints for the a-merkins... The UK may be a small country (group of countries!), but the range of accents is vast, the changes happen much faster than in the US. It would be just as difficult (perhaps more so) for me to do a convicing Brummie or Newcastle accent as it would to do a convincing Deep South accent. Though accents are becoming more homogenised with time, there remains much distinction.

This means that someone from one end of the country is not born with the ability to sound like they came from the other. Similarly, to UK ears some accents in the UK sound delightful, some harsh and some ugly (I won't name names, as personal tastes differ).

Personally, my accent is probably 'educated south east'. Not 'Posh' or RP (old style BBC), but the 'neutral' accent which so many people have these days as a result of moving around and mass broadcasting. I do have various anomolies as until about 10 or 11 I lived in Catford, London. Then moved to Kent, to Birmingham, to Manchester and back south to Surrey.

For example, I will sometimes slip into 'northern' pronounciations of 'grass' (hard 'a') and path. (The southern pronounciation slips an 'ah' sound in there, pahth).

As I was bought up in South East London I will slip into more 'esturial' phrasing at times (Sarf East, innit). I think this sounds ugly, and can bring myself up short if I catch myself doing it.

'Estuary English' is so named as it is an accent starting from the east end and spreading along the Thames Estuary into Essex and Kent. A slighly posher version is probably the nearest thing we now have to 'mainstream' BBC English!

Up until fairly recently, linguists claimed that they could tell from an accent not just the town of birth, but also the area and sometimes the street - but now people are moving around more.

Jane Leeves ultimately did improve on the Daphne accent. Either that, or we learned to ignore it.

She does a pretty convincing (to my ears) mid-west US accent though...! She was demonstrating this in a UK interview last year when she was talking about the US election.

Oh, two more hints for the Merkins. Australasia and the UK, very different accents, completely different hemispheres. In addition, there are other countries out there, most people online are not from the US of A!

Link: Accent reduction in the USA

Common Languages

I've just found a list at this site which lists the most common languages in the world by native speaker. The top 10 are:

rank native speakers code name country of origin continent
1 885000000 CHN CHINESE, MANDARIN China Asia
2 450000000 ENG ENGLISH United Kingdom Europe
3 266000000 SPN SPANISH Spain Europe
4 182000000 HND HINDI India Asia
5 175000000 POR PORTUGUESE Portugal Europe
6 168000000 BNG BENGALI Bangladesh (and West Bengal, India) Asia
7 160000000 RUS RUSSIAN Russia Europe/Asia
8 126000000 JPN JAPANESE Japan Asia
9 122000000 FRN FRENCH France Eur
10 118000000 GER GERMAN, STANDARD Germany Eur

It is quite surprising to me that Dutch fairs as badly as it does (45th on this list), given Dutch maritime history and the trade routes they established. I know Dutch isn't a big international language today, so it's not surprising that it fairs so badly - what's surprising is that Dutch hasn't had more of an impact than it did.

Back to the point, if there is indeed a point. When I see data such as this, it makes me marvel that the most common language taught in UK schools is French, with German and Spanish coming up the rear. Granted, there are good historical reasons for this, and these countries are our nearest big neighbours - but for a child living in, say, Manchester, is much more likely to hear Hindi than French.

If a European language is desired, then why not Portuguese, German, Spanish or Italian? When in Edinburgh the difference between France and Italy is negligable in terms of distance! I've seen Spanish and German taught in schools, not Italian though - or Portuguese!

What about the non European languages? I know from experience that it is quite hard to find someone who can teach বাংলা (Bangla/Bengali) where I live, and it is the sixth most common language in the world! More than this, it's the language from the Calcutta region, where the East India company was based - and hence we have a fairly large number of Bangla speakers in the UK. It's rare to see Japanese being taught, or Russian.

Looking more broadly, surely with China becoming more important on the world stage, the UK could probably benefit from having Mandarin speakers. We could also use speakers of Hindi (though for historical reasons, English is a de facto language in India). Of course, we do already have Hindi speakers, Gujurati speakers and so forth, but we should not rely long term upon 'home learning'. I have little doubt that we could also use Arabic speakers in the current political climate.

Fundamentally, native English speakers are quite lazy linguistically due to the predominance of English - arising from an Imperial past. Couple this with the fact that in the UK as we are an island, and so we don't have the easy movement of peoples across borders as happens in places like Belgium - one simply isn't exposed to languages.

There are similar issues elsewhere. In the US the country is large and quite insular (there are lots of places to see at home, why go abroad?). With the exception of Spanish (and also French in Canada) one must leave the continent to get a reasonable mix of languages (with the exception of certain areas within some big cities). Australia is in a similar position.

Given that we share a long border; I'd like to see Welsh or Gaelic being offered in England, especially along the border. I won't hold my breath for this happening in any sizable way, though - the main reason being a lack of teachers, and a lack of demand! Many people simply don't get the urge to learn a language until later in life.

Combine all these factors lack of exposure with the late start people get in foreign languages in the UK (usually aged 11) and we end up with a nation of essentially monolingual people.

A crying shame - it would be wonderful to be fluent in another tongue, and the best way to fluency is an early exposure.

I'm sick of being functionally monolingual. This is why I'm taking steps to do something about it. I'd like to learn বাংলা (Bangla/Bengali), but for now am learning French (boringly). Given what I've said above, why French? Essentially for me it is easier. I live in easy reach of the ferry and like to pop over for day trips. I do have a smattering of schoolboy French, and hopefully this will give me a head start.

The course starts in earnest within about a week. I hope I can maintain my focus and get myself to a reasonable level. Wish me luck - and don't be surprised if I try the occasional post in French at some point.

Nouns in Esperanto

I've been reading a little about Esperanto. It looks interesting - so I thought I'd jot a few key points. The language is completely regular. Nouns in Esperanton end in 'o', so we have 'patro' for 'father', 'filo' for 'son' and 'hundo' for 'dog'.

The plural is indicated simply by adding 'j'. 'oj' is pronounced like 'toy' in English.

patro becomes patroj and so on.

'The' becomes 'La'. There is no gender to worry about, as there is in French.

'And' is 'Kaj', and pronounced like 'ky' in the word 'Sky'.

La Patro kaj filoj is thus 'The Father and sons'.

Verbs all end in 'as', so La hundo sidas means 'The dog is sitting'.

The prefix 'ge' (a hard 'g') is used to refer to people of both sexes together. So gepatroj is 'parents' and 'gehundoj' is 'dogs and bitches' (but taken as one word, one could say hundoj kaj hundinoj.

To indicate the feminine, -in- is used just before the final -o.

So mother is patrino and daughter is filino.

A special place reserved for a particular object is indicated by -ej-, so a hundo (dog) lives in a hundejo (kennel).

In similar ways, other words may be built up readily from one root. All very interesting, a nice way to see grammatical rules working without the annoying exceptions.